Kansas City, Mo. The U.S. Justice Department launched a loosely organized effort Wednesday to prosecute human trafficking in a region that has prosecuted virtually no such cases.
Officials announced the Human Trafficking Rescue Project in conjunction with training sessions for regional police, prosecutors and social service workers - the rank-and-file professionals seen as integral to spotting incidents of forced labor and sexual exploitation, and to keeping them from spreading.
"Human trafficking is nothing less than modern-day slavery," said Bradley Schlozman, the U.S. attorney for western Missouri.
Trafficking affects an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually and has become a top issue for the Justice Department.
More than 30 other regions have launched similar task forces, which aim to educate authorities on how to identify trafficking cases and how to respond to victims.
Schlozman said his office was investigating several trafficking cases in the area, including alleged incidents of forced labor and prostitution of children and adults.
Wan Kim, the assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, said within a 10-mile radius of the training seminar - at a hotel near Kansas City International Airport - one could find examples of trafficking.
"You could find people in that area suffering in silence," he said.
A Justice Department report, examining a five-year period through Sept. 30 shows no trafficking indictments in Missouri and one in Kansas.